Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Play Ball! Who's Watching?

A discouraging start in TV ratings for MLB as the 2014 regular season begins. And I'm not referring to the opening game telecasts from Austrailia the previous week when the regular season started just before 5 AM ET after a rain delay.

This past Sunday night (3/30), the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast of the Padres' opener from San Diego vs. the Dodgers drew about the same ratings as the 2013 opener. The "however" in this year's similar rating is that the majority of L.A. Dodgers fans are not able to see Dodgers local telecasts this season because of the cost disputes with Time Warner Cable over the new Dodgers Network. (Even Vin Scully can't watch the road games he doesn't call from home.) While their fans are in a uproar over the reality that they'll rarely have a telecast, the Sunday night game was a chance for a far greater percentage of their fans to watch them on TV. The NCAA Tournament games had ended prior to the first pitch, so that's not an excuse either.

Thus, if there were a lot of Dodgers fans watching, it means that just as many fans from around the country did not watch this year. This marks the fourth consecutive season for which the Sunday night opener ratings have not increased over the previous year.

ESPN's ratings for its five national telecasts on Monday (3/31) were not spectacular either. What makes this discouraging is that for this season the prime time telecasts were not competing against the NCAA Championship game, which often conflicts with the MLB Monday opening day.

The problem is that I don't see the MLB national telecast ratings moving up at all this season. Fox Sports (over the air) is not airing games on Saturday until late May when their prime-time telecasts begin and run into July. They wait until September to air on Saturday afternoons. (Fox Sports 1 will air at least one game each Saturday, for those fans who know to pursue it and/or remember where FS1 is on their cable or satellite system.) Over at TBS, they won't be doing Sunday telecasts until the second half of the season, which gets viewers used to finding local or regional telecasts of area teams instead. (At least MLB Network is picking up the slack, adding Sunday afternoon telecasts for the first three months.)

While the networks are paying even more rights money but gearing more toward the post-season, now they face fewer chances to draw interested fans and get them excited about their post-season coverage.

Having unrest among fans in two of the top five markets does not help either. Again, Dodgers fans are livid because even those who might be willing to pay through the nose to watch Vin Scully call the Dodgers games cannot do so. In Houston, the Astros again look like a last place team, while CSN Houston continues to show their games to, well, a few people.

On Tuesday (4/1) night, the CSN Houston telecast of the Astros vs. the Yankees (in which the Astros took an early lead and won the game) finished behind women's college basketball on ESPN in the ratings. And none of the teams involved in those games were local to the Houston area. Ouch. And all of those telecasts (Astros and NCAA Women) were crushed by the NBA on TNT with the Rockets against Brooklyn.

NBC Sports has been concentrating on personnel over the past few days. Josh Elliott joins NBC upon leaving ABC Good Morning America. Word is that Elliott, among other assignments, will be included on Sunday Night Football. Yikes. Seems like that would make about 25 on-air people during SNF. There will soon be more hosts, reporters, and analysts than players on those games.
On the radio side, NBC Sports Radio has extended the contract of Donovan McNabb to continue co-hosting weekday afternoons with Mark Malone, after what management considers a successful first year for the former QB. The show, being on NBC Sports Radio, continues to be a well-kept secret.

NEW YORK: Speaking of ratings, YES Network reports an increase for its afternoon simulcast (from radio) over the past two months when compared with last year. They now simulcast Yankees play-by-play voice Michael Kay's radio show, resulting in about 5,000 more viewers than last year's simulcast of WFAN and Mike Francesa. Francesa's TV simulcast is now hidden away on FS1 and FS2.

PHOENIX: A nice promotion for ESPN Radio 620 and 98.7 this past Saturday (3/29). Colin Cowherd broadcast before a live audience of local contest winners at Chase Field, as well as fielding questions from fans and signing autographs. It is good to see radio get out there and get "interactive" in the truest sense of the word.

DES MOINES: KXNO 1460 has brought back "Cardinal Talk" on Friday afternoons as a weekly focus on the St. Louis Cardinals, whose games are again broadcast on the station. Ken Miller and Jim Brinson co-host the segment.

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